The Science Channel comes through again. This week it was an episode of The Secret Life of the Brain which was about rare syndromes following brain injury. I love brain stuff, don’t you? It’s so damn fascinating.
I’ve heard of phantom limb syndrome, but alien limb syndrome? This was a new one for me. With this condition, a limb acts seemingly separate from the rest of the body, as if it had it’s very own mini brain. The person is unaware of what the limb is up to. Often it happens with arm/hands and the hand tends to automatically grasp at whatever is in front of it. It also might slap, pat or stroke the head. One lady said the alien hand sometimes lights a cigarette while she’s already got one lit or it might grab a lit cigarette from her ash tray and put it out.
Another woman felt this uncomfortable pressure on her head as she lay in the hospital and asked the nurses to stop it and when they explained she was digging at her own skull, she was shocked. She said occasionally she’ll see the arm just doing it’s thing and think, “That poor girl.” A few seconds later she remembers that it’s her arm and she’s the girl.
Obviously, this is fun to learn about but not so fun to have. It makes the patient not want to go in public because the arm is waving around or slapping stuff or grabbing people. Most of the people who had it seem to have recovered after a period but one woman has had it for like 14 years. She acquired the condition after having brain surgery to cure her of epileptic seizures. I guess the surgeon removed a little more than necessary and now she stuck with crazy arm.
The other two conditions were foreign accent syndrome where a patient’s speech is affected in such a way that it literally sounds like they learned English as a second language. One woman really sounded sort of eastern European and a bit french but was from england. Another guy spoke with a Mediterranean sounding accent who was also from england. Interestingly, it wasn’t just the accent itself but even the sentence structure that was changed. Those people haven’t recovered but scientist’s have learned that the brain stem affects speech and this is something unknown until now.
The last brain anomaly covered was a doozy. It’s called body integrity identity disorder and means that the patient has a disconnect from a part of the body. The guy they showed with it felt like one leg, from just beneath the knee cap all the way through the foot was not his. I mean he knows it is on his body and must be his, but it feels wrong psychologically. This is really hard to imagine for me, but it is such an intense feeling that the patient will go so far as to try to get the limb amputated. They would rather have a prosthetic or be in a wheelchair than live with this body part that feels like it doesn’t belong on their body.
When doctor’s refuse, the patient might actually find a way to damage the limb to such an extreme that the doctor’s are forced to amputate it. The guy on the show went out to meet another sufferer of the disorder who actually stuck his leg in dry ice until it was so frozen and messed up that he had to have it amputated. In retrospect, he seemed to have no regrets. He just seemed happy to have the damn leg gone finally so he could live his life in peace.
The guy that still had his leg and wanted it gone found this visit to the amputee a bit hopeful for his own case and he felt less nuts. Still, he went and saw some specialists who tried several methods to get the brain to accept the limb and lessen the desire to amputate. It seemed like they made some headway and the guy appeared a bit optomistic. Five months later, he packed his leg in dry ice which forced doctor’s to amputate the dead thing.
I guess science lost on that one but they did seem to figure out some approaches that helped a bit so maybe they aren’t too far from finding a cure. At least they did figure out that a portion of the brain is definitely responsible for us identifying with our body parts in a way that we recognize and accept them as our own. Perhaps, they will learn how to stimulate the area of the brain in order to help it recognize the unwanted limb. In the meantime, if you are feeling compelled to sever a limb, you might want to go here and learn a bit more about your condition.
So anyway, it was a great program. I was taking notes in my sketch book while I watched, knowing a haiku comic would probably emerge from it. Hehe. To everyone that likes to pretend they are too good for t.v., I roll my eyes at you. I also stick my tongue at you because I am very mature.
Happy Hanukkah, Merry Christmas and Bright Yuletide Blessings. Pick one or skip them all, see if I care. Just have fun!
See you next week. Here’s some mind illusions to entertain you until then…